Gorilla Trekking, Uganda

Uganda is home to one of the most amazing experiences one could possibly get. It’s a place where you can come face to face with the largest, most powerful, yet shy and gentle primates on the planet. Unfortunately, they are also the most endangered as well, with only around 650 left on the planet. A sad fact for one of our closest living relatives.

In the south west corner of Uganda stradling Rwanda and The Congo, right on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, sits the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This marvelous part of the world is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet and home to some of the worlds most interesting creatures. We were there for one in particular. The enchanting Mountain Gorillas.

Leaving the closest town Kabale, we had spent several hour ride on the most insane 4WD track that brought us to the distant Bwindi National Park. Our accommodation was spectacular. It sat right on the edge of a valley overlooking the jungle we were to be trekking in the following day. It was such a beautiful view, and I couldn’t help but smile as I gazed across the valley with my mind racing a hundred miles an hour about what we were here for. I’d wanted this experience for as long as I could remember! The night was cool and misty, and the dim lit fire in the corner of the room slowly crackled and lit up the wooden structure with a soft glow, while the sounds of the jungle buzzed in the background. One of the most relaxing nights on earth.

Up at the break of dawn, we filled our bellies and spent an hour in the 4WD yet again, heading as far into the jungle as tracks would take us. Bumping up and down, we eventually reached our starting point where the Trackers were awaiting us. We had two Guards armed with AK47′s (just a kilometre or two from the Congo, this jungle isn’t the safest place on earth, and there are many wild elephants in the area also which also pose a danger). Still very early the morning, we set off on our long journey to find our family. Three and a half hours climbing straight up a mountain, following our guide as he hacked our way through the most insanely dense jungle with machetes (a crazy amount of effort) we experienced the most thick, lush and untouched jungle you can imagine. But we got the lot; scratches, bruises, insect bites, severely done over by armies of fire ants, which their bits still continued to burn a day later. But, it was fun and the landscape absolutely gorgeous!

Then the radio call came in – they had found our family and were only minutes away! Hearts started thumping. Adrenalin started flowing. We reached the mountain peak  and were finally introduced to what we were there for; a family of six Mountain Gorillas, including the Silverback that weighs up to around 250kg’s and stands up to 2 metres tall. His arms were as thick as my torso! Seeming though he was the first we encountered, it was a very daunting initiation into the experience.

But despite how utterly huge and powerful these beautiful animals are, and the fact that they could crush you in a second, they truly are the most placid and peaceful creatures on the planet. They have absolutely no intention to hurt you and happily let you get within a metre or two before letting off an annoyed grunt. We spent over an hour with our playful family, following them around the area, sitting with them, laughing at their antics, watching them frantically eat and just, do their thing. Gorillas don’t necessarily sit still all the time. Our family was very active and constantly bashing their way through the jungle, in which of course we immediately chased after. Catching up to them at times was difficult, especially with how dense the vegetation was. At times we weren’t even walking on the ground, we were walking on crushed foliage – it was that thick! On one occasion we were caught in a game of ‘Chicken’ with one of the females, as she wanted to get passed and get back with another member of the family, and we were in the way. Nor her or we were sure how to approach this situation, as there isn’t exactly room to move out the way. Safe to say, she won the stand-off. She charged straight at us and we basically fell back into the jungle wall. The tracker peed his pants laughing! My heart had been solidly wedged in my throat! There were 2 or 3 other people with us, which this female actually hip-and-shouldered out the way just after passing us. Haha, amazing! But an hour and a half later it was time to bid farewell to these amazing creatures and begin our descent.

The entire day has now become one of my favourite, if not THE favourite travel experiences. “Hands down the best”, my wife describes it as. Though a little more specifically; I’d have to say being within 2 metres of the silver back (no, not joking) and staring straight into his eyes with him staring straight back into mine … I can’t ever describe how that felt and won’t ever be able to articulate in words how it made us feel. It’s something that just has to be experienced.

Photography Conditions

Photographing these beautiful creatures was definitely not an easy task. The foliage in the jungle was extremely dense and made moving in the area quite difficult. Trying to get a solid foot hold was impossible at times and I was constantly being attacked by fire-ants and other insects. As the Gorillas moved around quite often, we were always having to follow them, and at times this became quite dangerous and at the end of the day I came away with many cuts, bruises and insect bites.

The lighting conditions went from bright sunlight to dark shadows depending on where they were in the moment. I chose to shoot this entire experience with a 50mm prime, at or as close to an aperture of f/1.8 (on a APS-C size sensor). This allowed me to get a fast shutter speed to capture their expressions in high, sharp detail, and create a shallow depth of field to make them the focus point, and make them really stand out against their surroundings. While I only had access to a 50mm at the time, I would recommend going into such an environment with with a lens range from 50mm to 200mm for best opportunities.

For those who would like some extra details

We took a two night package that included: transfers to/from the lodge (this is a solid four hour drive), 2 nights in a private room overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, transfers to/from the gorilla trekking starting point, all meals by the resident cook plus a packed lunch for the trek (the food was all pretty good too!). The whole experience typically costs around $650 USD each (though with the lack of tourists around the place, we were able to strike a better deal). Even though this is clearly expensive, it is probably the cheapest you could do it for. Because the Government priced Gorilla Permits are a whopping $500 USD in Uganda, and $750 USD in Rwanda, and they will continue to go up. … But I have to say, it’s the best splurge I’ve ever done, and a lot of the money goes towards the protection of the Gorillas!

VW Monthly Roundup – March 2014

Please excuse the construction sounds in the background – my bad!

Here are the highlights of what happened in our awesome landscape photography community!

And for those of you who like to read, here is a summary:

  • New members – go and say Hi and check out their Goals
  • Are you a new member? Please feel free to introduce yourself
  • This is where you will find the latest articles
  • We have excellent response to the last month’s contest. Check out of the amazing image submitted by the members Shallow Depth of Field
  • Want to be inspired? Here is collection of some outstanding work from photographers all over the globe: Be Inspired
  • And who knew that Natural abstract would be one of the most popular topic. Check out some the images submitted by fellow members: Natural Abstracts
  • We are working to make this a better community and would love to have your feedback. If you have a suggestion…or just some praise please leave us a note: Feedback & Suggestions

Please leave comments below on what you would like to see in this awesome community.

Balancing Photography and Family


Lots of people ask me how I balance photography and family. I’ll tell you this. It isn’t easy. Some days I have so much to do that I forget to eat lunch. Some days, I’m so tired that I can’t focus on what I’m writing. But most days, I do ok… and it’s hard to complain when you have such awesome kids – and a great job, too. The trick to getting everything done is pretty simple, actually. For me, it’s all about focus and flexibility.

Wednesday evening – 4:15 pm – I’ll drive the kids to the dojo for a short practice before class begins at 5. Then, I’ll leave three kids at the dojo for classes and head back home to prepare dinner. While dinner is cooking, I’ll drive back to the dojo to pick up the 10-year-old after Advanced Class, and take him to basketball practice. And then back to the Dojo once again to pick up the 12-year-old after Black Belt Club. I’ll take her back home and let her eat dinner with her big sister. Spaghetti for dinner – Yum! And then, I’ll head back to the dojo one more time – to pick up my 17-year-old after his Instructor Class. He’ll eat his dinner at home, and then I’m off to pick up the 10-year-old now that basketball practice is finished. He still needs his dinner – and then I’ve got to get everyone off to bed. And that’s just the evening…

The morning is busy with getting the kids out the door – we’re up at 5:45 am. And once they’re all at school, I’m busy with photography stuff – an online meeting, preparing a couple of blog posts, recording audio for an instructional video, putting the finishing touches on a presentation, doing some research for an upcoming trip, maybe even processing an image or two.


When the kids are home, they’re my first priority. I walk away from the computer and put my attention on them. I help with homework, and play board games, and help them practice martial arts or basketball or whatever they need. I find that if I’m trying to focus on work and the kids want my attention too, I get frustrated. And with lots of kids around, it’s not realistic to expect that I won’t be interrupted every few minutes. So, instead of putting myself in a position where I would feel frustrated, I shift my attention completely. When the kids walk in the door, I belong to them. I try not to schedule meetings for times when my kids are at home and awake. I don’t do presentations in the afternoons or on weekends. Nope. Those times belong to the kids. Period.


And when they walk out the door in the morning to get on the school bus, I shift my attention to work. Maybe I’m not as productive as I could be. I suppose I could get more done if I spent more time working, rather than talking and laughing with my kids. But why would I want to do that? :)


Honestly, the hardest part of all this is just keeping track of everyone’s schedules. I always have one eye on the clock – and I sometimes worry that I’ll forget someone somewhere. (Does every parent worry about that?) Every day is different, so I have to be ready to turn on a dime. Somebody forgot their homework. Someone wants to go visit a friend. Someone has outgrown their shoes. Everyone needs a trip to the dentist… It never ends. But don’t worry. I’m not complaining. I have my calendar synced to my computer and my phone, and I set an alarm when I’m likely to forget something. I thrive on keeping busy during the week, and I try to use my weekends to re-charge. We might spend a few hours working on a fun project (we built a cool little robot named Picasso a few weeks ago), or we’ll go to the Science museum, or go for a walk in the woods. We like to have cookouts and go hiking and exploring in the woods – or swimming in the rivers if its warm enough. By Monday, I’m ready to get back to work, and we start all over again!

It’s tough to balance everything. No doubt about it. But it’s a challenge I thoroughly enjoy.

Latow Annual Photography Seminar – April 2014

Jay-Canada1Event: Latow Annual Photography Weekend

Date: April 5-6, 2014

Location: Lee Chin Family Gallery, Burlington Art Centre, 1333 Lakeshore Rd., Burlington ON L7S 1A9

More Information…

Tickets & Registration

Varina and I are featured presenters for Latow’s 35th seminar (Burlington, Ontraio) in first weekend of April. Here is some more information:

Saturday April 5, 2014: Creating Impact

Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USAHilo, Big Island, Hawaii (HI), USA

Take a look at these two images. Both of them were taken at the same place at the same location. The photo on the left looks like your average snap shot, but the one on the right looks like something you might see in an art show. These images were taken at the same location, just a few minutes apart. So why does the image on the right have impact, while the one on the left does not?

At first glance, the answer might seem simple… the difference is in the light and the composition. Those two elements do play a big part in creating impact – but they aren’t the only factors. In creating the photo with impact, we took into account Exposure, Light, Composition, Post Processing, Shadow and Highlight Detail.. and so much more. All those factors play a role in creating impact – as well as what we include in a composition – and what we don’t.

Most photographers have learned a little something about the technical side of photography – and about the creative side as well. But what about the psychological side? We’ll discuss technical and creative skills, and how we use them to create psychological impact in a photograph.

April 6, 2014: Mini Seminars 

Morning Session: Varina Patel on Perception & Composition. (9:30 – noon) – understanding theories of human perception in order to create more compelling images, beyond the basic rules of composition. $45, combine with the afternoon session for $80. Advance registration only.

Morning Session: Jay Patel on Blending Techniques with Layers & Masks in Lightroom/Photoshop (9:30 – noon) – basic through advanced techniques according to participants’ experience and interests (exact level to be informed by a survey of registrants two weeks before the session). $45, combine with the afternoon session for $80. Advance registration only.

Afternoon Session: Jay and Varina on Creative Shooting (1 – 3:30pm) – creative techniques, making the most of shooting conditions, harsh light photography, night photography, overcast skies, specialty lenses. $45, combine with a morning session for $80. Advance registration only.

Landscape Photography on the Google Newsstand

Google Newsstand

Google recently announced their Newsstand Service for Android Devices. We are happy to report that you can now read our latest articles on any Android device via Google’s Newsstand app. Here is how you go about doing it:

Become a Member

You can get all the latest article via Google Play, and you can join our mailing list to get the latest news, special offers, and featured links. If you’re interested, you can sign up right here!


Start the New Year off Right!

Eveling at School


Happy New Year, everyone!

Why not start the new year off right by making a donation to Empowerment International! We’ve been to Nicaragua twice to work with the amazing folks at EI, and we’ll be returning for a third time this year. These kids are inspiring, and EI has made such an amazing difference in their lives. Please help if you can!

Do you want to win a camera bag full of gear?


In August, Jay and I spent four days with a film crew in the Canadian Rockies. The Shade Tree Films guys made it an incredible experience – and now, the short film is just about ready for release!

Here’s the Trailer! We hope you enjoy it!

We’ll be flying to New York for the big event, and we hope you’ll join us for a three-part release! We’re doing a live Q&A after the exclusive premiere – but that’s just the beginning! You can watch all the videos, and the recorded hangout event over at the Induro Gear site: http://www.indurogear.com/patels/.

This past year has been an incredible one for us – and we’re really excited to be able to share the love. I want to send out a really big thank you to our Sponsors – especially the guys over at Induro, who made this happen!

Happy Cyber Monday!

Frozen in Time

20% Thank You Code: thankyou100
Expires: December 9

We started our holiday sale early this year, because we wanted to say Thank You to all of you. But don’t worry! It’s Cyber Monday, and it’s not too late! You can still use your Thank You code for a 20% discount as you stock up on eBooks for yourself and your family and friends! The holidays are here, and eBooks and webinars make great gifts – no matter where you are on your photographic journey!

Just enter your Thank You code during checkout code to get 20% off the total price of your purchase. You can use it to buy any of our eBooks, or even to purchase the complete collection… and the discount is good for our iHDR webinar series as well!

Not sure what to get? Here are our recommendations:

Photography eBooks: Workflow SeriesThe Workflow Series is perfect for hands-on learners who want to get inside our brains to see how it’s done. It’s the next best thing to going with us on a workshop!

Apprentice Series Collection

The Apprentice Series is for photographers who want to make their portfolios stand out! Learn to “See” through the eyes of the pros, and find out how to get brilliant colors without the help of photoshop!

Photography eBooks: The Complete Collection

The Complete Collection gives you even more savings! It’s every single eBook we’ve ever written in a single bundle – and we offer a 10% discount in addition to this week’s special savings! This is the ideal gift-pack for holidays and birthday, and it’s a fantastic deal!


Our iHDR webinar recordings are for photographers who want MORE! We take you through the entire process – from equipment and fieldwork, to post-production adjustments and blending. You get a complete guide to creating natural-looking blended artwork – and a whole new outlook on photography!